Tag Archives: Matt Musselman

THE GRAND ST. STOMPERS: “DO THE NEW YORK”

do-the-new-york

Late last year, Gordon Au, — trumpeter, arranger, composer, bandleader, writer, thinker, scientist, satirist, linguist — sent me the digital files for the second CD by the Grand Street Stompers, DO THE NEW YORK, and I wrote back to him, “I am listening to DTNY (three tracks in, so far) and I love the mad exuberance and deep precision of the first track — a Silly Symphony, urban and hilarious and wonderfully executed. It’s a pity that the mobs no longer have transistor radios anymore, because each track could be an AM hit.”

Having listened to the disc several times by now, I stand by my initial enthusiasms.  But I wouldn’t want anyone to think that zaniness overrides music.  The compositions and performances are a lavish banquet of sounds and emotions: you won’t look at the CD player and think, “How many tracks are left?” at any point.

If you know Gordon Au, Tamar Korn, Molly Ryan, Kevin Dorn, Dennis Lichtman, Matt Koza, Matt Musselman, Nick Russo, Rob Adkins (and not incidentally Peter Karl, Kelsey Ballance, Kevin McEvoy, Barbara Epstein) you won’t need to spend a moment more on what I say.  Scroll down to the bottom of this long post and read Gordon’s notes, purchase, download: let joy be unconfined.

But I shall tell a story here.  Jon-Erik Kellso has been a very good guide to new talent: through him, for instance, I heard about Ehud Asherie.  In 2009, I arrived at The Ear Inn for a night of musical pleasure, and Jon-Erik told me he’d just finished “giving a lesson” to a young, seriously gifted trumpeter named Gordon who had wanted to study some fine points of traditional jazz performance practice from an acknowledged Master.  This young man would be at The Ear later.  And the prophesy came to pass.

Gordon’s trumpet playing was deliciously singular: he wasn’t a clone of one player or seven.  Climbing phrases started unpredictably and went unusual places; a solid historical awareness was wedded beautifully to a sophisticated harmonic sense, and everything made sense, melodically and emotionally.  He showed himself a fine ensemble player, not timid, oblivious, or narcissistic. When the set was over, we spoke, and he was genuinely gracious (later, in California, when I met his extended family, I understood why) yet with a quite delightfully sharp-edged wit, although he wasn’t flashing blades at me.

I began to follow Gordon — as best I could — to gigs: he appeared with Tamar Korn and vice versa; he took Jon-Erik’s place with the Nighthawks; he played with David Ostwald at Birdland . . . and soon formed his own group, the Grand Street Stompers.

(Gordon abbreviates “St.”; I spell it out.  My perversity, not his.)

Often I saw, and sometimes I videoed them at Radegast, then elsewhere — as recently as last year, when they did a remarkable session at Grand Central Station, surely their place on the planet.  Thus, as “swingyoucats” on YouTube, I’ve captured the band (releasing them, of course) on video for six years.

They are uniquely rewarding — a pianoless group that expresses its leader’s expansive, often whimsical personality beautifully.  Even when approaching traditional “traditional” repertoire, Gordon will take his own way, neatly avoiding piles of cliche in his path.  Yes, MUSKRAT RAMBLE — but with a Carbbean / Latin rhythm; yes, a Twenties tune, but one reasonably obscure, SHE’S A GREAT GREAT GIRL. Gordon’s compositions and arrangements always sound fresh — and they aren’t pastiches or thin lines over familiar chords — even if I’ve heard the GSS perform them for years.  And there are other wonderful quirky tangents: his love of Disney songs, the deeply refreshing ones, and his devotion to good yet neglected songs — the title track of this CD as well as WHILE THEY WERE DANCING AROUND on the group’s first CD.  And, I think this a remarkable achievement, with Gordon’s soaring lead and a beautifully-played banjo in the rhythm section, the GSS often summons up an early Sixties Armstrong All-Stars, all joyous energy.

A few more words about this CD.  Although one can’t underestimate the added frisson of hearing this band live — perhaps surrounded by dancers or dancing oneself, in a club, perhaps stimulated by ambiance, food, or drink . . . I think the experience of this disc is equal to or superior to anything that might happen on the spot.

Owing to circumstances, the GSS might be a quintet on the job; here it is a septet: trumpet / cornet; clarinet; soprano saxophone; trombone; banjo / guitar; string bass; drums; two singers.  This expansive array of individualists allows Gordon to get a more delightfully orchestral sound.  Even as a quintet, on the job, the GSS is a band and a working band at that: their performances are more than a series of horn solos, for Gordon has created twists and turns within his arrangements: riffs, backgrounds, trades, suets between instruments, different instruments taking the melodic lead — all making for a great deal of variety. Each chorus of a GSS performance feels satisfyingly full (not overstuffed) and delightfully varied.

And now I come to the possibly tactless part of the comparison between studio recording and live performance. With some bands, the studio has a chilling effect: everything is splendid, but the patient has lost a good deal of blood.  And the impolite truth is the a group like the GSS performs in places where alcohol is consumed, so the collective volume rises after the first twenty minutes.  Buy this disc to actually hear the beautiful layering and subtleties of the group that you might not hear on the job.  Or just check it out for the sheer pleasure of it all.

Sound samples, ways to purchase a physical disc or download one (complete or individual performances) here — and Gordon’s very eloquent and sometimes hilarious liner notes here.

Listen, read, enjoy, savor, download, purchase.  As Aime Gauvin, “Doctor Jazz,” used to say on the radio, “Good for what ails you!”

May your happiness increase!

NAOMI AND HER HANDSOME DEVILS: “THE DEVILS’ MUSIC”

naomi-cd-2016

This is an irresistible CD.  The first time I put it in the player, after about a half-chorus, I leaned forward and raised the volume.  When I had heard Naomi sing ISN’T IT ROMANTIC? for the first time, I played it again.  And then again.  And several times over.  And (I know this might seem monotonous) I played the disc again from the start.  That should serve as the JAZZ LIVES Seal of Approval, shouldn’t it?  (Note: the apostrophe in the title is also a hilarious gift to us.)

naomi-portrait

If you visit YouTube and type in “Naomi Uyama,” you will find many videos showing her as a championship swing dancer.  But I first encountered Naomi as a singer, and a fine one — singing a chorus from a Boswell Sisters recording alongside Tamar Korn and Mimi Terris — on a cold night in 2009 outside Banjo Jim’s.  Naomi and her expert friends resurfaced with their first CD, which I reviewed here with great pleasure in August 2014.

Here are several tracks from that CD — to show you that Naomi and her Devils know and knew how to do it.  Lil Johnson’s TAKE IT EASY, GREASY:

Something more polite, the Basie GEORGIANNA:

I know I’m getting carried away here — a wonderfully sweet / swinging performance of IF I COULD BE WITH YOU:

The band on THE DEVILS’ MUSIC is of course, Naomi Uyama, vocals; Jake Sanders, guitar; Jonathan Doyle, tenor sax / clarinet; Jeremy Noller, drums;
Matt Musselman, trombone; Jared Engel, string bass; Dalton Ridenhour, piano;
Mike Davis, trumpet, and the sessions took place in Chicago in August 2016.

Naomi and the Devils write, “Our hope was to show the growth we’ve had as a unit since our debut album was released 2 years prior. Our focus: having original arrangements of swinging tunes – some well loved by the dance community and other hidden gems. We also added to our line-up, and over half the songs on this album feature Mike Davis on trumpet, expanding our hot horn harmonies and giving us a new sound. Lastly Naomi wrote the band’s first original composition, track 1 “Little Girl Blues,” putting something out there that you can’t hear from any other swing band. With a vintage ear and expertise from recording engineer Alex Hall we’ve mixed and mastered the whole shebang and can’t wait for the world to hear it. We hope you enjoy “The Devils’ Music”.

Now, some comments from me.  Naomi, as I hope you’ve already heard, is not just someone who sings: she is a singer, with a voice that’s attractive in itself, which she uses to great effect, depending on the material.  She can handle complicated lyrics at a fast tempo; she swings; she has a sure sense of dynamics. She doesn’t copy old records; she doesn’t overdramatize; she understands the songs; she can be rueful, tender, brassy, and she’s always lively.  Her phrasing is playful, and she’s no swing robot — by which I mean she’s loose, not repeating a set of gestures.  And a witty lyricist on LITTLE GIRL BLUES.

I also think that it is so much harder to sing ISN’T IT ROMANTIC than a swing number, and on this delicate love song Naomi captivates me.  The same for IF WE NEVER MEET AGAIN, even when Gerlach’s lyrics defy logic.  Her I’M LIVIN’ IN A GREAT BIG WAY made my living room rock, and I nearly hurt my neck bobbing my head to SHOO SHOO BABY.  Having heard Louis, Bing, and Billie make imperishable versions of PENNIES FROM HEAVEN, I’ve come to dread contemporary versions, but hers is special, with a hilarious scat break.

That band!  I’ve met and admired six of the players in person (to me, their names are an assurance of swing).  I bow to them.  I’ve not met Jeremy Noller, but he is another Worthy — a rocking Worthy at that. Catch his tom-tom work on ROSE OF THE RIO GRANDE.  And although the Devils sit so comfortably in a Basie / Lunceford / small-group Ellington groove, there’s a delicious c. 1929 A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND, completely convincing.  (The band likes to riff, with about half of the tracks arranged by Naomi or Jake: nice uncluttered charts, expertly rehearsed but never stiff.)  Naomi lays out on PERDIDO (a good thing, considering the thin lyrics), BLUES WITH A BEAT (a Forties-sounding romp), DELTA BOUND (a pleasure at any tempo), and a grooving THESE FOOLISH THINGS.

This is a long expression of praise, but you will notice I haven’t listed all the delightful moments on the CD; were I to do so, the post would be three times longer.

You can download the CD here ($13) or see how to buy a physical disc on the same page . . . AND . . . you can hear all the tracks on the disc.  “If that don’t get it, well,  forget it right now,” to quote Jack Teagarden, more or less, on the 1947 SAY IT SIMPLE.  For more first-hand information, here is the band’s Facebook page, and here is Naomi’s page.

It’s all quite devilishly wonderful.

May your happiness increase!

“VINCE GIORDANO: THERE’S A FUTURE IN THE PAST”

vincegirodano_poster

About seventy-five minutes into this gratifying portrait of Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, trombonist and keen observer Jim Fryer describes its subject as “an intense man . . . a driven man . . . consumed” by the ideals he’s devoted the last forty years to.  And his goal?  As Vince says in the film, it is “to get the great music out there for the people.”

From his early introduction to the music — the hot jazz 78s on his grandmother’s Victrola — to the present moment, where he is the inspired creator of a ten-piece Jazz Age big band possibly without equal, Vince’s ideal has been complex. Reproduce live the sound, accuracy, and vitality of the music he heard on the records, and add to that repertoire by playing, vividly and authentically, music that never got recorded. His quest has been to have a working band, the contemporary equivalent of the great working bands, sweet and hot, of the Twenties and Thirties, visiting the Forties on occasion. Add to this the constant schlepping (you could look it up) of the equipment for that band; finding a new home after Sofia’s could no longer stay open; finding gigs; keeping this organization running against the odds.  The film wholly captures how difficult Vince’s consuming obsession is to accomplish, and to keep afloat day after day.

Many readers of JAZZ LIVES are fervent Giordanians or perhaps Vinceites, and we crossed paths for years in the darkness of Sofia’s, at the Christmas teas.  I have a long history with this band, going back to a Nighthawks gig in the preceding century, in the eastern part of Long Island, New York, where the night sky darkened, the thunder rumbled louder than Arnie Kinsella’s drum set, lightning flashed, but the band kept playing until the last possible minute before the deluge.  So I’ve experienced Vince’s dedication firsthand.

Here’s the film’s trailer — a delightful encapsulation that doesn’t give away all the surprises:

The narrative follows Vince and the band over two years and more, from Sofia’s to Wolf Trap for PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION with Garrison Keillor, to Aeolian Hall with Maurice Peress for a recreation of Paul Whiteman’s presentation RHAPSODY IN BLUE — the opening clarinet solo brilliantly played by Dan Block — to the Nighthawks’ search for a new home, which they found at Iguana.  The film brings us up in to the present with the New York Hot Jazz Festival and a band led by Nighthawk Dan Levinson (his “Gotham Sophisticats”) as well as a new generation of musicians inspired by Vince, who has shown that it is possible to play hot music at the highest level with accuracy and spirit.

So much credit for this beautifully-realized film, must, of course, go to its intensely-charged subject, the Nighthawks, and their music. But filmmakers Dave Davidson and Amber Edwards are expert visionaries.

Even given this vibrant multi-sensory material, formulaic filmmakers could have created something dull.  They might have been satisfied to simply document performance: aim cameras at the Nighthawks and record what they play, as videographers like myself have done, which would have been accurate but limiting as cinema. Or, given the many people willing to talk about Vince and the Nighthawks, Edwards and Davidson could have given us a pageant of New York’s most erudite talking heads, some of whom would have been happy to lecture us.

Instead, by beautifully combining both elements and adding some surprises, they have created a wholly engaging, fast-moving portrait of Vince, the Nighthawks, and their world.  THERE’S A FUTURE IN THE PAST never seems to stand still, and the cameras take us places that even the most devoted fans have never gone.  We get to peek in at Terry Gross’s interview of Vince, to travel downtown for a Nighthawk-flavored session of the EarRegulars at The Ear Inn and a recording session for BOARDWALK EMPIRE.

One of the film’s most pleasing aspects is candid, often witty commentary from people who know — the musicians themselves. Edwards and Davidson have fine instincts for the telling anecdote, the revealing insight.  We see and hear Jon-Erik Kellso, Dan Levinson, Mike Ponella, Mark Lopeman, Peter Yarin, Andy Stein, Cynthia Sayer, Jim Fryer, and others, people who have worked with Vince for twenty-five years and more, and their stories are as essential to the film as is the music.

Edwards and Davidson quietly capture telling details, visual and otherwise: the box of doughnuts brought on the bus; the rivets on Vince’s aluminum double bass; Jon-Erik Kellso’s hand gestures — contrapuntal choreography — during SHAKE THAT THING; the voices of the Nighthawks joking about being fired as they head into a band meeting.  The film is admiring without being obsequious, so we also see a short, revealing episode of Vince losing his temper. But the details ever seem excessive.  In this era of fidgety multi-camera over-editing, the film’s charged rhythm — appropriately, a peppy dance tempo — is energetic but never overdone, never cleverly calling attention to itself.

There’s vivid photographic evidence of the spectacle at Sofia’s and the Iguana: the tuxedo-clad Nighthawks not only playing hot but enacting it; the dancers jubilantly embodying what they hear in ecstatic motion.  A documentary about Vince would be empty without the music.  I noted SUGAR FOOT STOMP, THE MOON AND YOU, PUBLIC MELODY NUMBER ONE featuring Catherine Russell, WHITE HEAT, SWEET MAN, Kellso burning up the cosmos on SINGING PRETTY SONGS, THE STAMPEDE, ONE MORE TIME, YOU’VE BEEN A GOOD OLD WAGON, even BESAME MUCHO at a rainy Midsummer Night Swing at Lincoln Center.  And the sound recording is just splendid.

One of the secret pleasures of this film, for the true believers, is in spotting friends and colleagues: Matt Musselman, Will Friedwald, Tina Micic, Jim Balantic, John Landry, Molly Ryan, Sam Huang, Chuck Wilson, and a dozen others.  (I know I’ve missed someone, so I apologize in advance.)

In every way, this film is delightful, a deep yet light-hearted portrait of a man and an evocation of a time and place, a casual yet compelling documentary that invites us in.  First Run Features is presenting its New York theatrical premiere at Cinema Village on January 13, 2017, and I believe that Vince and the filmmakers will be present at a number of showings.

May your happiness increase!

The Second Part: OH, HOW GRAND! (GORDON AU, MATT MUSSELMAN, MATT KOZA, NICK RUSSO, ROB ADKINS: May 5, 2016)

Photograph by Jessica Keener

Photograph by Jessica Keener

Here’s the first part of a wonderful concert / dance created by Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers at Grand Central Station on May 5, 2016.  The Stompers are Gordon (of course), trumpet, compositions / arrangements, vocal; Matt Koza, clarinet / soprano; Matt Musselman, trombone; Nick Russo, banjo / guitar; Rob Adkins, string bass.

And the second part!

Grand Central diningI CRIED FOR YOU:

CRAZY:

YOU’RE NEVER FULLY DRESSED WITHOUT A SMILE:

RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE:

THE SOUND OF MUSIC:

LOUISIAN-I-A:

THE BALLAD OF BUS 38:

NAGASAKI:

And for the deep explication that Gordon only hints at, here’s his wonderfully elliptical blog, THAT OF LOWLY PWUTH.  Yes, you did read that correctly.

And to think — before this, I’d thought of Grand Central Station simply as the eastern terminus of the Forty-Second subway shuttle, the “S” — not as a secret mecca for lyrical hot jazz.  That’s New York City for you: one surprise tumbling in on another.

May your happiness increase!

OH, HOW GRAND! (GORDON AU, MATT MUSSELMAN, MATT KOZA, NICK RUSSO, ROB ADKINS: May 5, 2016)

Photograph by Jessica Keener

Photograph by Jessica Keener

On May 5, 2016, Gordon Au and the Grand Street Stompers played a free concert / swing dance session at the dining concourse of Grand Central Station in New York City. The Stompers are Gordon, trumpet, vocal, arrangements / compositions; Matt Musselman, trombone; Matt Koza, clarinet / soprano; Nick Russo, banjo / guitar; Rob Adkins, string bass.

But first, a relevant tale (impatient readers have already skipped to the videos, which is their privilege).  One of my literary heroes is the multi-faceted Irish writer “Frank O’Connor” — born Michael O’Donovan in Cork — who made a pilgrimage to James Joyce in Paris in the early Twenties.  In Joyce’s apartment, O’Connor noticed a beautiful antique print of Cork City in a frame whose material he could not recognize.  “What’s that?” he said to Joyce, pointing at the picture.  “Cork,” said Joyce.  “I know that,” said O’Connor.  “What’s the frame?” “Cork,” said Joyce.  “I had the greatest difficulty finding a French frame maker who would construct this.”

That story always amused me — although O’Connor also cited it as an example of Joyce’s peculiar associative mania — but it reverberated loudly in me when I had this rarest of opportunities to see and hear the Grand Street Stompers at Grand Central Station.  “Where are we?” “Grand.”  “Who’s playing?” “Grand,” and off into the darkness, although swinging mightily.

Grand Central dining

The Grand Street Stompers are a witty, light-hearted, versatile band.  The solos illuminate the room; the ensemble passages are charmed and charming; Gordon’s originals have the lilting energy of songs that you’re sure you’ve heard already.  At times, the GSS sounds like an ideal Louis Armstrong band — straddling 1925 and 1965 — in its sweet ebullience.  Gordon’s imagination is large and occasionally whimsical, so the band plays Fifties pop, Twenties hot tunes, Disney classics, Broadway melodies, and originals — all of them fresh yet instantly classic.

Here’s the first half of the doubly Grand Event:

Not just a twelve-bar blues, Louis’ MAHOGANY HALL STOMP has its own routines, which the GSS negotiates stylishly:

Gordon’s own hummable SUNSET SERENADE:

BELLA NOTTE, from LADY AND  THE TRAMP, music by Sonny Burke, lyrics by Peggy Lee — the image that comes to mind is two romantic canines delicately sharing a plate of spaghetti and meatballs:

Another Au hot tune, RIDGEWOOD STOMP:

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MADE, a song that everyone associates with Dinah Washington in the Fifties, but it is from 1934, originally in Spanish, by Maria Grever:

With Bechet in mind, Gordon’s SARATOGA SERENADE:

Frankie Valli’s CAN’T TAKE MY EYES OFF OF YOU:

BE OUR GUEST, from BEAUTY AND  THE BEAST:

The Stompers are a busy band — you can see and hear why — and they appear everywhere, but in New York, in May 2016, this appearance at a swing dance session in Bryant Park might truly be special.  Don’t miss a chance to hear them; as I write this, they will be lighting up the room at Radegast this very night.

And there’s a second eight performances from the Grand night of May 5, 2016, to come.

May your happiness increase!

BIG BAND MONDAY WITH THE GLENN CRYTZER ORCHESTRA at the FILLMORE ROOM (Monday, February 29, 2016)

Glenn Crytzer Orchestra flyer

It’s lovely to see an enterprising musician take the risk of leading a big band — and Glenn Crytzer (compositions / arrangements / guitar / banjo / vocals) is just that enterprising.  Although most New Yorkers know him for his work with quartets and septets, his new Orchestra (four reeds, four rhythm, five brass) is creating a splash at the Fillmore Room — 146 Tenth Avenue at 19th Street — from 7-10 PM every Monday.  I was there last Monday, February 29.  You can’t see the brilliant dancers off to my left, but you’ll have to imagine them on a substantial wooden dance floor.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t post a dozen videos at one time, but I wanted JAZZ LIVES viewers to get a sense of the band’s sustained energy — the way it barrels through three sets.  And just maybe some viewers in the metropolitan area will be sufficiently inspired to make the pilgrimage to Big Band Mondays.

The band itself was Glenn, guitar / banjo / vocal / arrangements / compositions; Ian Hutchinson, string bass; Jesse Gelber, piano; Andrew Millar, drums; Jason Prover, Sam Hoyt, Mike Davis, trumpets; Joe McDonough, Matt Musselman, trombone; Ricky Alexander, Linus Wyrsch, Evan Arntzen, Dan Block, reeds. And the Orchestra’s book is substantial: originals, homages to Goodman, Shaw, Lunceford, Waller, Louis, Lionel, Duke, Webb, Kirk, and more.

WALLINGFORD WIGGLES:

I GET IDEAS:

A MELLOW BIT OF RHYTHM:

HEY BA-BA RE-BOP!:

THE ROAD TO TALLAHASSEE:

TRAFFIC JAM:

APOLLO BLUES:

ME, MYSELF AND I:

BLUES FOR NORMA:

SQUEEZE ME:

BLACK AND TAN FANTASY:

IF DREAMS COME TRUE:

Book tickets / make reservations here

May your happiness increase!

SLIDE AND SLIDE ALIKE // WHISTLE WHILE YOU . . . WORK?: MATT MUSSELMAN, RYAN SNOW, KRIS KAISER, ROB ADKINS at FRAUNCES TAVERN (August 1, 2015)

Trombone

Memorable music blossoms forth without fanfare when the right creative spirits come together.  And such music isn’t always created by Stars — people who win polls, who record CDs for major labels.  Two examples from a Saturday brunch gig in New York City follow.

Matt Musselman, welcoming us in

Matt Musselman, welcoming us in

The very perceptive Rob Adkins, string bassist extraordinaire, arranged this session on August 1, 2015 — Matt Musselman on trombone, Kris Kaiser on guitar. And they made lovely music.  But then someone came in — new to me but very talented: trombonist / jazz whistler Ryan Snow.

There’s a small tradition of two-trombone teams: Cutshall and McGarity, Johnson and Winding, Vic and Eddie Hubble are the first teams that come to mind.  And two trombones lend themselves to trading off: you play eight bars, I’ll play the next, and so on.

Matt and Ryan knew and respected each other, and everyone was eager to hear Ryan play.  So they began to trade phrases — on the one horn, passing it back and forth without missing a beat or smudging a note.  It was a lovely exercise in jazz acrobatics, but it was more — wonderful music.  I thought, at the end, “This is why I carry a knapsack full of video equipment to jazz gigs, because anything can happen and usually does.”

(If you can’t tell who’s who, Matt has a rolled-up long-sleeve white shirt; Ryan is wearing short sleeves.)

OUT OF NOWHERE:

And for the next number, I CAN’T GET STARTED, Ryan proved himself a superb jazz whistler:

Marvels take place amidst the hamburgers and Cobb salads, the gallons of beer and Diet Coke . . .

Since I’d never heard of Ryan, I asked for a brief biography.  You should know that his August 2015 visit to New York was prelude to his attending law school at the UVA School of Law in Charlottesville.  He will do great things . . . but I hope he visits New York again to play and whistle, to lift our spirits.

Here’s Ryan’s self-portrait:

Born and raised in Stanford, CA, child of two professors and avid music lovers, grew up surrounded by music in the home and going to see live music of all kinds. Started playing piano privately at 9 (hated it), trombone at 10 (loved it) playing in the school band. Parents gave me Blue Train, Kind of Blue, and a J.J. Johnson on Columbia album for my 12th birthday and I began listening to jazz obsessively, buying CDs and spinning them till I knew every note, then going to get more. That and being lucky enough to have a good jazz program in middle school and high school really developed my ears. I had fun playing in small combos with friends. I toured Japan four summers with the Monterey Jazz Festival High School All-Star Big Band, through which I connected with some amazing young players (including Ambrose Akinmusire, Jonathan Finlayson, Charles and Tom Altura, Justin Brown, Milton Fletcher, Ryan Scott, Bram Kincheloe to name a few); I learned a lot and caught a glimpse of professional music life on the road.

I went to Oberlin College and Conservatory to study jazz and political science, earning bachelor’s degrees in both. There I connected with a really strong community of improvisers (including Peter Evans, Matt Nelson, Nick Lyons, Kassa Overall, Theo Croker, Nate Brenner, and our friend Rob Adkins among others) and found myself pulled towards the avant-garde and to Brooklyn, where I moved after graduation in 2005. I knew at 22 that if I ever wanted to do serious work in music that I would need to start right away, and I’m very thankful I made that choice. I spent the next six years playing as much as possible and contributing to a vibrant improvised music community in Brooklyn, including curating and hosting a regular music series in my basement for two years. During this time I also helped found and build a soul-rock-funk band called Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds that quickly gained a strong following and began touring nationally in 2011. Three years, 200,00 miles and over 500 shows in 45 states later I found that my underlying passions had shifted, that I was spending my down time on the road reading about politics and public policy rather than working on my own music and setting up playing opportunities. I was making music that mattered to people, and having fun doing it, but part of me wasn’t fulfilled; however meaningful my music was to the audience and to my peers it wasn’t making a significant impact on their lives and opportunities, let alone those of the millions (billions) beyond earshot. I felt called, I felt at 30 about political action as had at 22 about music, that I needed to immediately begin working in service of my values and towards a government and a society that I believe in.

About whistling:

My dad used to whistle a lot when I was really young. I don’t remember learning it at any particular point, but when I began listening to jazz obsessively in middle through high school I got in the habit of whistling along just walking around with my Discman all day. So it just became natural to whistle bebop. I kind of had a running stream of quarter note swing going through my head in those days (still notice it at times now but it’s further in the background) and I would often start whistling lines out loud, just externalizing what I was hearing in my head. Plenty of complaints from mom and friends. Did this daily through college and while I never really whistled with other people I was whistling a lot. After moving to NYC I had some opportunities to whistle professionally, laying down a few studio tracks as a guest and busting it out every few shows with Sister Sparrow & The Dirty Birds, and have also done a few jam sessions where I’ve been just whistling. I think the best thing about it actually is being able to sit in credibly and comfortably in a jazz setting even if I don’t have my horn with me, it’s just really fun and freeing, and I’m always thankful for the opportunity to share it with people.

There are a lot of similarities with the trombone in that they’re both fretless instruments and so essentially require some kind of attack (air or tongue) to delineate individual notes, which can get tricky at fast tempos. But they’re also so different it’s fun to have both. I hope to continue to develop my whistling and ultimately make some recordings that I can share.

Thank you, Rob, Matt, Ryan, and Chris, for transforming a Saturday afternoon most memorably.

May your happiness increase!

“AT THE BALL, THAT’S ALL!”: THE ARMISTICE BALL (Nov. 14, 2015)

at the ball, that's all

thus —Armistice Ball

The Armistice Ball is a wonderful new / old tradition, and I’m planning on being there this year. May I invite you to join me at the eighth annual Ball? This is their website with much information.  It takes place on a Saturday, in Morristown, New Jersey, from 8-11 PM.

As you can see by the photograph above, it is a truly vintage affair — music, attire, dance steps.  No hip-hop; no blue jeans; no shorts.  (A relief!) The Ball is focused on the world that once was, the world of 1910-20 — specifically time-travel to 1918, when the Great War ended.  There won’t be any influenza epidemic at the Ball, fortunately.

But there will be music, sweet and hot, provided and created by Dan Levinson, Mike Davis, Matt Musselman, John Landry, Jesse Gelber, Mike Kuehn, Joanna Sternberg, Sue Fischer — celebrating the music and dance of the World War One era.

Here is the Ball’s Facebook page (where lovely antiquity and current cyberspace meet and shake hands).

I’ve never been to the Ball, but I’ve always wanted to go . . . and so I encourage you to give yourself the pleasure of attending. And here is some music that will encourage you — and if you live too far from New Jersey, at least you can raise the volume (to a decorous level) and one-step around the kitchen with your Beau or your Belle.

Here are atmospheric videos from 2013 and 2014:

and

and

But don’t wait too long.  You’ll be humming this song instead of more joyous ones.

After the Ball

May your happiness increase!

THE FROLICS AT FRAUNCES (Part One): ROB ADKINS, MIKE DAVIS, CRAIG VENTRESCO (July 25, 2015)

Fraunces Tavern

To some, Fraunces Tavern at 54 Pearl Street in lower Manhattan is most famous as the spot where George Washington held a farewell dinner for his troops in 1789.  Others like it because of their wonderfully extensive beer list and straightforward food — nice servers always, too.  Also, it’s a fine place to bring the family if you’re coming or going to Ellis Island or the Statue of Liberty.

For me, it’s a little-known hot spot of rhythm on Saturday afternoons from 1-4. I came there a few months ago to enjoy the hot music of Emily Asher’s Garden Party Trio [plus guest] — which you can enjoy here — fine rocking music.

But let us live in the moment!  Here are four performances by Rob Adkins, string bass; Craig Ventresco, guitar (the legend from San Francisco and a friend for a decade); Mike Davis, cornet AND trombone.

“Trombone?” you might be saying.  Mike is very new to the trombone — a number of months — and he was playing an instrument not his own.  So he was a little sensitive about my making these performances public (those dangerous eyebrows went up and threatened to stay there) but I assured him that his playing was admirable, even if he was severe on himself.  His cornet work is a complete delight.  The music Rob, Craig, and Mike make is delicate and forceful, incendiary and serene.  You’ll see and hear for yourself on these four performances.  Rob swings out with or without the bow, by the way.

LILA, which I associate with a Frank Trumbauer / Bix Beiderbecke OKeh — a song I’ve never heard anyone play live, so thank you!

WHISPERING, which was once one of the most-played songs in this country and is now terribly obscure:

WAITING AT THE END OF THE ROAD, with memories of Paul Whiteman, Bing Crosby, Andy Secrest, Bix Beiderbecke, and Irving Berlin:

ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND, another Berlin classic, this performance evoking Red Nichols and Miff Mole:

And although it gets me in trouble with some people every time I write it, these three musicians are not necrophiliac impersonators.  They know the old records — those cherished performances — intimately and lovingly, and the records might act as scaffolding, but they are not restricted to copying them. (Ironically, this session reminds me more than a little of the lovely impromptu recordings made by Johnny Wiggs and Snoozer Quinn, although those two musicians didn’t have the benefit of a wonderful string bassist of Rob’s caliber in the hospital.)

There will be more to come from this Saturday’s glorious hot chamber music performance.  And this coming Saturday (August 1) Rob Adkins has asked trombonist Matt Musselman and guitarist Kris Kaiser to start the good works.  I know they will.

May your happiness increase!

NAOMI AND HER HANDSOME DEVILS

I first met Naomi Uyama in a downtown New York music club five years ago. Soon, we adjourned to the sidewalk.

It’s less melodramatic or noir than it appears.  The club was Banjo Jim’s — ‘way down yonder on Avenue C — where a variety of jazz-folk-dance groups appeared in 2009. The most famous was the Cangelosi Cards, in their original manifestation, featuring among others Tamar Korn, Jake Sanders, Marcus Milius, Cassidy Holden, Gordon Webster, Kevin Dorn. Tamar, who has always admired the Boswell Sisters, got together with singers Naomi and Mimi Terris to perform some Boswell numbers as “The Three Diamonds.” On one cold night, the three singers joined forces on the sidewalk to serenade myself, Jim and Grace Balantic, and unaware passers-by with a Boswell hot chorus of EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY. Tamar has recorded on her own, as has Mimi, but I and others have been waiting for Naomi to record, to share her sweet swing with the world. And the disc is delightful.

NAOMI

The first thing one notices about the disc is its authentic swing feel courtesy of players who have a deep affection for a late-Basie rhythmic surge and melodic ingenuity: Jake Sanders, guitar; Dalton Ridenhour, piano; Jared Engel, string bass; Jeremy Noller, drums, and a two-person frontline of Adrian Cunningham, tenor saxophone and clarinet; Matt Musselman, trombone.  The band is neither over-rehearsed or overly casual; they provoke regular movements of the listener’s head, torso, and limbs.  (I can attest to this.)  They aren’t busily copying the sound of classic recordings; they are swinging out in fine style. I heard echoes of Illinois Jacquet and Al Grey, of a Buddy Tate band uptown or a Forties Jay McShann small group, of Tiny Grimes and Sir Charles Thompson — those players who swung as reliably as breathing. The band never gets in Naomi’s way, and they make happy music for dancers, riffing as if to the manner born.

But this might seem to ignore Naomi, which would be unthinkable. She came to jazz through lindy hop, which means her rhythm has a cheerful bounce to it, even on slower numbers. But she knows well that making music is more than beating a solid 4/4 so that the dancers know where one is. Naomi is an effective melodist, not tied to the paper but eminently respectful of the melodies we know. Her improvisations tend to be subtle, but when she breaks loose (trading scat phrases with the horns on MARIE) she never puts a foot wrong. (MARIE, incidentally, is the fastest track on the disc — 223 beats per minute — and it never seems rushed. I approve that Naomi and her Handsome Devils understand the beautiful shadings possible within medium-tempo rocking music.)

Naomi’s voice is a pleasure in itself — no rough edges, with a wide palette of timbres, but perfectly focused and with an effective phrase-ending vibrato. She doesn’t sound like someone who has spent her life memorizing Ella, Billie, or a dozen others; she sounds, rather, like someone who has fallen in love with the repertoire and decided to sing it, as if she were a bird bursting into song. In swingtime, of course. On Lil Johnson’s seductive encouragement, TAKE IT EASY, GREASY, she does her own version of a Mae West meow, but she doesn’t go in for effects and tricks. Her phrases fall in the right places, and she sounds natural — not always the case among musicians offering milkless milk and silkless silk in the name of Swing.

And I had a small epiphany while listening to this CD. A front-line of trombone and reed (mostly tenor) is hardly unusual, and it became even less so from the middle Forties onwards, but it makes complete aesthetic sense here, because the spare instrumentation (two horns, powerful yet light rhythm section) gives Naomi the room she needs to be the graceful and memorable trumpet player of this little band. Think, perhaps, of Buck Clayton: sweet, inventive, bluesy, creating wonderful phrases on the simplest material, and the place Naomi has made for herself in the band seems clear and inevitable.

The songs also suggest a wider knowledge of the Swing repertoire than is usual: Basie is represented not with a Joe Williams blues, but with the 1938 GLORIANNA, and the Dorsey MARIE is an evocation rather than a small-band copy. There are blues — I KNOW HOW TO DO IT and the aforementioned TAKE IT EASY, GREASY — as well as classic pop standards that feel fresh: I CAN’T GIVE YOU ANYTHING BUT LOVE, ONE HOUR, LOVER, COME BACK TO ME, AFTER I SAY I’M SORRY, GOODY GOODY, IS YOU IS OR IS YOU AIN’T MY BABY, WHAM, and THIS CAN’T BE LOVE.

The disc offers nothing but good music, never ironic or post-modern, neither copying nor satirizing, just beautifully crafted melodic Swing.  Welcome, Naomi — with your Handsome Devils alongside. On with the dance!

Now, some bits of information. You can find Naomi on Facebook here; the band has its own page here. To buy the disc (or a download), visit here, where you also can hear samples of the songs. To hear complete songs, visit here. Naomi and a version of her Devils can be found on YouTube, and here is her channel. Enough data for anyone: listen to the music and you’ll be convinced.

May your happiness increase!

WHILE IT’S HOT: TWO CONCERTS, COMING SOON

I revere the jazz Past: the recordings, the actual men and women, their stories, their holy artifacts.

But I would not want this art form to become a museum, where we can only hear the Great Dead People.

So I encourage my friends to seek out occasions where we can live in the present moment: hearing living men and women play and sing their own versions of this lovely music right in front of us. It’s an experience different and deeper than listening to the Electrobeam Gennett you just got on eBay, although I am not making fun of that pleasure, not at all.

Enjoying the present makes me think of fish and chips, which I will explain below.  Trust me, it’s relevant.

The two concerts I am reminding you all about are put on by the Sidney Bechet Society in New York City. Were I there, I would be there. They take place on Monday, at 7:15 (a nice serene early hour) at Symphony Space at 2537 Broadway at 95th Street.

Monday, April 21, is the second “Jam Session of the Millenium,” led by our own Dan Levinson:

SBS.April.Show.Flier.V6 (Neal Siegal)

If you’re one of those Jazz Lovers who wonders, “Who are these kids and are they any good?” you and your skepticism are in luck — because someone (thank you, Anonymous Person) recorded the first Jam Session of the Millennium in its entirety.  Consider this!

Monday, May 19, is a tribute concert in honor of Mat Domber, who made so much good music possible for all of us (along with his wonderful wife Rachel, still with us) on Arbors Records from the late Eighties onwards.  The audience of jazz listeners thanks him as do the musicians — and some of them gather onstage to say it with music: Randy Sandke, Wycliffe Gordon, Anat Cohen, Dick Hyman, Bucky Pizzarelli, Warren Vache, Joel Forbes, Rebecca Kilgore, Ed Metz, Rossano Sportiello, Harry Allen, John Allred, Rajiv Jayaweera, and Bob Wilber!

Tickets are $35 (students $10) ahttp://youtu.be/TfKz2nIok-Qnd the Symphony Space contact information is 212.864.5400 / www.symphonyspace.org.

Fish and chips, Michael?”

Yes.  In one of my favorite Irish novels of the last few decades, THE VAN, by Roddy Doyle, two fellows open a mobile fish and chips “cooker” out of an old van — a very funny and touching novel.  But one of their selling points is a sign that says TODAY’S CHIPS TODAY. Get this music while it’s HOT.

May your happiness increase!

EAST SIDE STOMP: GORDON AU’S GRAND STREET STOMPERS at the CAFE CARLYLE (Part Two), DECEMBER 19, 2013: GORDON AU, TAMAR KORN, DENNIS LICHTMAN, MATT MUSSELMAN, NICK RUSSO, ROB ADKINS, KEVIN DORN

I’ll say it again.

It was an event in contemporary New York swing history, a memorable group making its debut at a famous nightspot. On Thursday, December 19, 2013, the Grand Street Stompers made the Cafe Carlyle their own, and an enthusiastic audience responded. Here’s the second part of what they saw and heard (the first part is here):

GRAND STREET STOMPERS CARLYLE

Thanks to the Stompers and to event host Michael Katsobashvili, it was a true event, featuring the extraordinary vocal improviser Tamar Korn, trumpeter / composer Gordon Au, clarinetist Dennis Lichtman, trombonist Matt Musselman, guitarist/banjoist Nick Russo, bassist Rob Adkins, percussionist Kevin Dorn.  (The JAZZ LIVES cinematographer apologizes to the rhythm section for leaving them out of the picture, but we know they are there and we are grateful for it.)

WALTZ OF THE FLOWERS:

WILD MAN BLUES:

ALL THE OTHER CHRISTMAS SONGS:

SOMEHOW THE WORLD HAS TURNED UPSIDE-DOWN:

and as an encore, LET YOURSELF GO:

 

May your happiness increase!

EAST SIDE STOMP: GORDON AU’S GRAND STREET STOMPERS at the CAFE CARLYLE (Part One), DECEMBER 19, 2013: GORDON AU, TAMAR KORN, DENNIS LICHTMAN, MATT MUSSELMAN, NICK RUSSO, ROB ADKINS, KEVIN DORN

It was an event in contemporary New York swing history, a memorable group making its debut at a famous nightspot. On Thursday, December 19, 2013, the Grand Street Stompers made the Cafe Carlyle their own, and an enthusiastic audience responded. Here’s the first part of what they saw and heard:

GRAND STREET STOMPERS CARLYLE

Thanks to the Stompers and to event host Michael Katsobashvili, it was a true event, featuring the extraordinary vocal improviser Tamar Korn, trumpeter / composer Gordon Au, clarinetist Dennis Lichtman, trombonist Matt Musselman, guitarist/banjoist Nick Russo, bassist Rob Adkins, percussionist Kevin Dorn.  (The JAZZ LIVES cinematographer apologizes to the rhythm section for leaving them out of the picture, but we know they are there and we are grateful for it.)

WHILE THEY WERE DANCING AROUND:

CRAZY EYES:

MUSKRAT RAMBLE:

SARATOGA SERENADE:

I’VE GOT MY LOVE TO KEEP ME WARM:

‘ZAT YOU, SANTA CLAUS?:

More to come.

May your happiness increase!

IN HIGH SOCIETY: GORDON AU’S GRAND STREET STOMPERS at THE CAFE CARLYLE (Thursday, December 19, 2013)

GRAND STREET STOMPERS CARLYLE

I’m delighted by this swinging manifestation of upward social mobility!  Usually, the Grand Street Stompers — the tidy yet exuberant small band led by Gordon Au — has been glimpsed downtown, at small clubs and beerhalls, at dance extravaganzas.

Here you can see many videos that I and other enthusiasts have created.

Yes, there have been marvelous occasions north of Forty-Second Street (two delightful holiday stomps at Columbia University) but the GSS are breaking new ground, migrating north for an evening.

On Thursday, December 19, 2014, The Grand St. Stompers will be playing at the Cafe Carlyle (35 East 76th Street), beginning at 10:45 PM.  $25 + minimum. Reserve your seat online or at 212-744-1600.  Here is the Facebook event page. Thanks to event host Michael Katsobashvili, it’s the beginning of another chapter in GSS history, so biographers and cultural theorists take note.

The evening will feature the extraordinary vocal improviser Tamar Korn, trumpeter / composer Gordon Au, clarinetist Dennis Lichtman, trombonist Matt Musselman, guitarist/banjoist Nick Russo, bassist Rob Adkins, percussionist Kevin Dorn.  A gathering of superheroes worthy of Marvel Comics.

I’ll be there, and I hope you are too.

May your happiness increase!

LET ME OFF UPTOWN FOR THE HOLIDAYS (Part Two): “CHRISTMAS STOMP” with GORDON AU’S GRAND STREET STOMPERS (Columbia University, December 1, 2012)

It bears repeating.

Saturday, December 1, 2012, was a wonderful day (they all are, if you have the right approach to them) but the evening was even better . . . I was fortunate enough to be uptown for the CD release party held at Columbia University.  The party was honoring the Grand Street Stompers on the occasion of their new CD, CHRISTMAS STOMP.  And STOMP they did.  (Learn more about that very pleasing CD here.)

GSS cover

For those of you who couldn’t take the A train (thank you, Billy Strayhorn) or drive uptown, here are some highlights of this most swinging, mobile evening. The participants: Gordon Au on trumpet / arrangements / compositions; Matt Musselman, trombone; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Davy Mooney, guitar; Jared Engel, string bass; Rich Levinson, drums; Tamar Korn, Molly Ryan, vocals — with guest appearances from the amazing dancer Andrew J. Nemr, clarinetist Dan Levinson, saxophonist Adam Lee, singer Margi Gianquinto, and more.

Before we start,a caveat (nicely browned for the holiday season).  The music is wonderful; my videos are somewhat below-par for reasons that anyone who has been in a large hall filled with wonderfully graceful dancers will recognize.  An event such as this (thank you, Lucy!) is organized for the comfort and pleasure of the people who not only know what the Peabody is but are able to do . . . the world is not my sound stage.  Knowing this, I took up a position at the rear of the hall — a happy observer — and recorded what I saw.  In situations such as this, I think, “This is what it was like at the edge of the Savoy Ballroom,” and any discontent vanishes.  Perhaps next year someone will lend me a crane or at least a stepladder and a longer tripod.  Or not.  Here are the remaining marvelous swirling delights I saw and heard on December 1.

It wasn’t wintry outdoors, but Tamar feels it’s always a pleasure to sing I’VE GOT MY LOVE TO KEEP ME WARM:

Moving along in the “I’ve got” cardfile, she beautifully delivers Fats’ I’VE GOT A FEELIN’ I’M FALLING:

Molly comes back for IT’S BEGINNING TO LOOK A LOT LIKE CHRISTMAS:

O HOLY NIGHT is not the vehicle one associates with high-energy jazz, nor with elegantly forceful tap dancing, but when Gordon Au and the Grand Street Stompers meet the wizard Andrew J. Nemr, magic happens.  I only wish I had been at a better angle to focus on those airborne feet.  Next time:

Molly, typically well-behaved, tells of holiday adulteries in I SAW MOMMY KISSING SANTA CLAUS.  Let us avert our eyes from this potentially lascivious scene — when the Grand Street Stompers play, we get the presents:

The Three Graces — Molly, Tamar, and Margi — give out with a very sweet WHITE CHRISTMAS:

Victor Herbert never knew his MARCH OF THE TOYS could look and sound like this:

AIN’T MISBEHAVIN is a way to welcome Adam Lee, Lucy Weinman, and Dan Levinson to the holiday stomp:

For the finale, everyone throws caution to the wind — at least metaphysically — for LET YOURSELF GO:

If you’ve enjoyed these experiments in Cinema Very Tea, you’re sure to enjoy the real thing: learn more about the actual CD (a winner no matter what the calendar says) here.

May your happiness increase.

LET ME OFF UPTOWN FOR THE HOLIDAYS (Part One): “CHRISTMAS STOMP” with GORDON AU’S GRAND STREET STOMPERS (Columbia University, December 1, 2012)

Saturday, December 1, 2012, was a wonderful day (they all are, if you have the right approach to them) but the evening was even better . . . I was fortunate enough to be uptown for the CD release party held at Columbia University.  The party was honoring the Grand Street Stompers on the occasion of their new CD, CHRISTMAS STOMP.  And STOMP they did.  (Learn more about that very pleasing CD here.)

GSS cover

For those of you who couldn’t take the A train (thank you, Billy Strayhorn) or drive uptown, here are some highlights of this most swinging, mobile evening. The participants: Gordon Au on trumpet / arrangements / compositions; Matt Musselman, trombone; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Davy Mooney, guitar; Jared Engel, string bass; Rich Levinson, drums; Tamar Korn, Molly Ryan, vocals — with guest appearances from the amazing dancer Andrew J. Nemr, clarinetist Dan Levinson, saxophonist Adam Lee, singer Margaret Gianquinto, and more.

Before we start,a caveat (nicely browned for the holiday season).  The music is wonderful; my videos are somewhat below-par for reasons that anyone who has been in a large hall filled with wonderfully graceful dancers will recognize.  An event such as this (thank you, Lucy!) is organized for the comfort and pleasure of the people who not only know what the Peabody is but are able to do . . . the world is not my sound stage.  Knowing this, I took up a position at the rear of the hall — a happy observer — and recorded what I saw.  In situations such as this, I think, “This is what it was like at the edge of the Savoy Ballroom,” and any discontent vanishes.  Perhaps next year someone will lend me a crane or at least a stepladder and a longer tripod.  Or not.  Here are the marvelous swirling delights I saw and heard on December 1.

I don’t know if it was because of his essential courtly modesty that Gordon called I MAY BE WRONG to start the evening.  More probably it was because that song (in 1934) became the theme song of the Apollo Theatre, and we were uptown:

WINTER WONDERLAND always used to be formulaic December-it’s-the -holidays-music until I heard Louis sing it with accompaniment / arrangement by Gordon Jenkins . . . .  Here Molly Ryan, fetching in green, steps up to the vocal microphone and reminds us just how pretty this simple 1931 song is: 

Some might presume that IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE (recorded memorably by Mr. Waller) was appropriate because of Santa’s ethical police, but I think swing candor is always valuable.  And Molly sings it without any didacticism:

WHEN I TAKE MY SUGAR TO TEA may have been the first song I ever heard Tamar Korn (all keyed up here, in red) sing.  Her improvisations on the theme remain memorable, sweet, tart, and hot:

Following in the holiday footsteps of Mister Strong, Tamar pretends to be a little anxious, asking the seasonal question, ‘ZAT YOU, SANTA CLAUS?:

And Tamar and the band offer Gordon’s whimsical sweet feline love song, CRAZY EYES:

More to come!  For now, if you’ve enjoyed these experiments in Cinema Very Tea, you’re sure to enjoy the real thing: learn more about the actual CD (a winner no matter what the calendar says) here.

May your happiness increase.

STOMPING FOR CHRISTMAS: AN EARLY HOLIDAY BASH WITH GORDON AU / THE GRAND STREET STOMPERS (Columbia University, December 1, 2012)

It’s a cornucupia of hot holiday pleasures: a CD release party that’s also a swing dance extravaganza.  And more.  A dance lesson (at 7 PM) by Nathan Bugh.  The phenomenal dancer Andrew J. Nemr will be performing as only he can.  And (I quote):

Featuring dance performances, holiday photo station, surprise special guests, groovin’ DJs, and 3 hours of live swing-your-socks-off holiday and jazz tunes, including songs from the Grand St. Stompers‘ eagerly awaited second album!Christmas Stomp presents the holiday classics you know and love (plus a few rare gems), stomped on and reshaped into swinging, jazzy hits, courtesy of the delicious musical talents of Gordon Au, trumpet / cornet / arrangements; Tamar Korn and Molly Ryan, vocals; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Matt Musselman, trombone; Nick Russo, banjo / guitar; Rob Adkins, string bass; Kevin Dorn, drums.

Saturday, December 1st, 8-11PM // $12, $8 Columbia University students.  Diana Center, Barnard College: 3009 Broadway, New York, New York.

I attended the 2011 version of this annual splash, and even though I was restricted to Peabodying with my tripod at the rear of the room, it was a wonderful night.  Graceful, energized young men and women, fascinating to watch, dancing to the best live jazz . . .

And speaking of that jazz, I’ve been listening to my very own advance copy of CHRISTMAS STOMP — the new Grand Street Stompers’ holiday CD.  At the risk of being unsubtle, it is a great outpouring of sweetly quirky swing.  Gordon has a sublimely odd sense of things (underneath that superbly polite exoskeleton) and it comes through in the music.  I have very little tolerance of Christmas music — but in Gordon’s hands, it becomes a thing of slightly lopsided beauty.  After all, some of the most popular Christmas tunes lend themselves nicely to the GSS’ approach — I SAW MOMMY KISSING SANTA CLAUS has never been a classic in my book, worthy of Robin and Rainger — but the GSS make it very lively and memorable.  On this CD, there’s also WINTER WONDERLAND, I’VE GOT MY LOVE TO KEEP ME WARM, ‘ZAT YOU, SANTA CLAUS?, IT’S BEGINNING TO LOOK A LOT LIKE CHRISTMAS, SANTA CLAUS IS COMING TO TOWN, MARCH OF THE TOYS, the aforementioned holiday near-adultery of Mommy and Mister C, THE ONLY THING I WANT FOR CHRISTMAS, O HOLY NIGHT, and Gordon’s witty pastiche, ALL THE OTHER CHRISTMAS SONGS.  Sweet vocals from Tamar and Molly, and hot / tender playing from everyone else.

If you bring a crisp (or even a crumpled) twenty-dollar bill (“a double sawbuck” in ancient parlance) not only will you be admitted to the festivities on December 1, but you will go home with your own CD.  Amaze your friends; delight your family; be the envy of everyone.  For more details, click stompers.  On the site you will find a variety of VIP packages with delicious benefits.  My favorites are the ones that aren’t listed: a cornet lesson from Gordon; a half-hour discussion of cosmology and philosophy with Tamar; a visit to Nick’s house to play with his adorable children, a seminar in Universal horror films with Professor Dorn, a dance lesson from Lucy Weinman . . . any or all of these things can be negotiated.

And here’s some video evidence from last year — what a swell party it was!  (Purists will say that RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE isn’t Christmas music, but it’s good music.  So there.)

May your happiness increase.

THERE’S MAGIC IN THE EAR (Part Two): The EarRegulars and Friends at The Ear Inn, May 13, 2012)

There are certain live musical events I hope to remember the rest of my life.  Three that come to the surface immediately: an I WOULD DO MOST ANYTHING FOR YOU that Ruby Braff created one night in 1975 at the last Eddie Condon’s — at such a quick tempo that the other players had to scurry to get in their sixteen bars before the performance ended.  There’s also a Vic Dickenson chorus of LOUISE performed as part of a Condonite ballad medley alongside Bob Wilber, Kenny Davern, and Dick Wellstood in 1972 at Your Father’s Mustache.  The BODY AND SOUL played at the 1975 Newport “Hall of Fame” by Bobby Hackett, Vic, Teddy Wilson, Milt Hinton, Jo Jones — where Hackett gave the bridge of the final chorus to Jo, who created a subtle, dancing wirebrush sound sculpture.

I could extend this list, but it is only my way of prefacing this: the music I heard and recorded last Sunday night at The Ear Inn (326 Spring Street, Soho, New York) — created by the EarRegulars and friends — is on that list.

The EarRegulars that night were Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet (a special one, a 1970s Conn horn that had belonged to Bobby Hackett); Ken Peplowski, tenor saxophone and clarinet; James Chirillo, guitar; Jon Burr, string bass — and some fine congenial friends.  I have written in my earlier post (check it out here) about a community of joyous magicians (Jazz Wizards, perhaps?), artists and friends listening deeply to one another . . . but the new friends coming along didn’t break the spell.  Rather, they enhanced it.  The party expanded and became more of what it was meant to be.

Listen, savor, marvel, be enlightened!

They began with that twelve-bar commentary on how the universe feels on a dark Monday morning — a lament with a grin, THINGS AIN’T WHAT THEY USED TO BE.  Here it’s a soulful shuffle with a big heart.  Things might be annoying but if we play the blues for a good long time, we won’t notice so much:

Listening to THINGS, I thought once again of Miss Barbara Lea’s mildly imperial disdain for what she called “Sounding Like” — the game critics and listeners play of “Oh, that phrase Sounds Just Like . . . ” and a name, famous or obscure, follows — but most importantly, the names mentioned are never those of the musicians actually playing.  I declare that for this post, the musicians these players Sound Like are named Kellso, Peplowski, Chirillo, Burr, Anderson, Au, Musselman . . . no one else but them!

Someone proposed that minor romp — all about a melancholic African fellow whose liturgical utterance swings like mad: DIGA DIGA DOO.  Concealed within in, not too subtly, is an Andrew Marvell carpe diem, which you can find for yourself.  The Ellington connection isn’t all that obscure: it was a 1928 hit by Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh from the show BLACKBIRDS OF 1928 — which also included Bill Robinson’s DOIN’ THE NEW LOWDOWN.  (If Fields and McHugh had never collaborated, how much poorer would our common language be.) And the Ellington band recorded it when the song was new and kept the chord changes for many romps in later decades.  All I can say is that I was happy to hear them begin it — and I got happier chorus by chorus through their Krazy Kapers:

The eternal question, DON’T YOU KNOW I CARE (OR DON’T YOU CARE TO KNOW)?  What beauty!  And the surprise for me — among others — is that lovely bridge.  In this performance, every note is in place but it all sounds fresh, new — from their hearts!

An aside: as an introduction to DON’T YOU KNOW?, Jon-Erik said that the EarRegulars were going to continue their explorations of Ellingtonia because a friend was in the house who likes Ellington.  I found out later that it was the UK rocker Joe Jackson, who has created his own Ellington-tribute CD: details here.

The first of the Friends to join the fun was the brilliant young reedman Will Reardon Anderson, who had been sitting at a table with a very happy Missus Jackie Kellso — he leapt in the carrot patch for a exhilarating COTTON TAIL:

The emotional temperature in the room was increasing, not only because we moved from the plaintive question DON’T YOU KNOW I CARE to the romantic request JUST SQUEEZE ME.  And the stellar cornetist Gordon Au joined the band for this sweet improvisation.  (Behind Missus Kellso the observant eye can catch a glimpse of night-owl Charles Levinson and ragtime hero Terry Waldo, enjoying themselves immensely.)  The first thirty seconds of this performance continue to make me laugh out loud . . . for reasons I don’t need to explain here.  And I hope you’ll drink in this performance’s beautiful structure — from ensemble to solos to conversations.  We’re among Friends!

And the young trombone master Matt Musselman came to play on the last song of the night, Juan Tizol’s PERDIDO . . . a true exercise in swing by all concerned!  And pay attention (to echo Jake Hanna) to the casually brilliant dialogues than just happen: not cutting contests, but chats on subjects everyone knows so well:

I write it again (“with no fear of contradiction,” as they used to say): we are so fortunate to live on the same planet as the magical creative folks.  Blessings on all of you!

May your happiness increase.

THE THINGS WE LOVE, or ROMPING AT RADEGAST: GORDON AU’S GRAND STREET STOMPERS with TAMAR KORN (April 18, 2012)

How lucky we are to have these young cats swinging out for us!  Those of us who can get to Radegast know what I mean — the delicious combination of hot music among friends, with a side order of swing dancing, uplifting food and drink.

If you’ve never been to Radegast, it is well worth the trip — a spiritual oasis of its own singular kind, where the ambient music is often Sidney Bechet, Walter Page, and Jonah Jones.  The Radegast Hall and Biergarten — to give it its formal appellation — is located at 113 North 3rd Street  Brooklyn, NY 11211 — parking is easy at night.  Click here to see their schedule of hot bands.

Here are four performances from Wednesday, April 18, 2012 — to lift you up and get you in the groove in the best way.  The Elevators are Gordon Au, trumpet, compositions, arrangements; Matt Musselman, trombone; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Peter Maness, string bass; Davy Mooney, guitar; Tamar Korn, vocal.

Let’s start with a genuine Thirties love song written by Gordon Au in the twenty-first century, SOMEHOW THE WORLD HAS TURNED UPSIDE-DOWN, with vocalizing by Tamar:

Then, a sweetly romping 1931 favorite — uplifting even if you put stevia in your latte: WHEN I TAKE MY SUGAR TO TEA:

A spicy Latin-flavored MUSKRAT RAMBLE:

And an encouragement to be candid.  IT’S A SIN TO TELL A LIE, you know:

Good deal!

These musicians are playing gigs all over — so be sure to get on their email lists / websites / Facebook pages to keep up with them.  The people who lament the aging audience for jazz, the sad necrology of the music . . . come hear this band: they are the past, present, future rolling on!

May your happiness increase.

 

I HEARD A BRASS BAND COMING DOWN THE STREET (March 7, 2012)

Perhaps my title is slightly inaccurate.  I didn’t see this brass band coming down the street; rather, they slowly and cheerfully assembled themselves on the imagined bandstand of Radegast Bierhalle in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, around nine o’clock on Wednesday, March 7, 2012. 

But they were a stirring group.  No surprise, because Gordon Au was in charge (he wields his power very lightly and politely) of this different-yet-exhilarating version of the Grand Street Stompers.  Different in that the front line was entirely brass — not brassy, but three players of brass instruments: Gordon on cornet; Jim Fryer on trombone and euphonium; Matt Musselman on trombone, with a rhythmic rhythm section of Nick Russo, banjo; Peter Maness, string bass; Giampaolo Biagi, drums.  They rocked, they strode, they created a joyous atmosphere.  And the two trombones gave this band a solid center that delighted me — especially since Jim and Matt are wonderful ensemble players, skilled at dancing around the other horns with great grace.  For me, it summoned up sweet memories of one of the first jazz groups I ever saw in concert — the World’s Greatest Jazz Band at a 1969 New York City concert steered by Dick Gibson (Zoot, Al, and Joe Newman were in one group) featuring the trombone duo of Vic Dickenson and Eddie Hubble, memorably. 

At the end of this set, I left to get some sleep before my appointed rounds began on Thursday morning, but I asked Gordon if he would consider other unusual balances and instrumentations for the GSS, since this one was a honey.  We shall see!  Gordon called an easy one to start, but a meaningful choice.  Even though he is a young man, he understands something about jazz’s responsibility to remind people that life is finite and you had better have a good time — so CABARET, a Broadway-via-Christopher Isherwood carpe diem, made sense to set the mood of the evening.  It also harks back to everyone’s patron Saint, Mister Armstrong . . . it’s impossible for me to hear this song without thinking of Louis, which is always a good thing:

To quote Cootie Williams, “Ain’t the gravy good?”

I wouldn’t be surprised if Gordon is telepathic, for he certainly seemed to be reading my mind.  LIMEHOUSE BLUES, with the verse, was the feature number when I saw Vic and Eddie Hubble with the WGJB, so I was more than pleased to hear it here:

On the theme of psychic abilities . . . there’s a lady they call THE GYPSY.  Thank you, Louis!  And thank you, GSS — Jim Fryer’s euphonium sound is good enough to eat:

The GRAND STREET Stompers then launched into CANAL STREET BLUES — a geographical paradox that upset no one::

And here’s Gordon’s winning original, ONCE, DEAR:

I was thrilled to hear I MAY BE WRONG — memories of the John Kirby Sextet and (more memorably for me) a 1960 recording of the song by Joe Thomas, Pee Wee Russell, Vic Dickenson . . . on Prestige-Swingville:

Without a hint of uncertainty, the GSS proceeded to light up Charlie Shavers’ UNDECIDED:

And going back to Louis — BLUEBERRY HILL:

It was a wonderful set by a wonderful band . . . .

May your happiness increase.

TAMAR KORN, GORDON AU, THE GRAND STREET STOMPERS VISIT THE LOUIS ARMSTRONG HOUSE MUSEUM (July 30, 2011)

Some of my favorite people playing hot jazz in a sacred place.  The video comes to JAZZ LIVES through the gracious permission of FORTNIGHT JOURNAL, where you’ll find other audio and video creations by Tamar in Edition 2 here

The video finds Tamar with Gordon Au, trumpet; Matt Musselman, trombone; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Nick Russo, guitar; Rob Adkins, bass.  A House concert, I’d call it.  Feast your eyes!

The video was shot by Ian Campbell, and edited by Johan Hesselgren.

And FORTNIGHT JOURNAL is a new pleasure: visit them here.

“JAZZ LIVES” GOES TO A DANCE: FOUR SEMI-FORMAL SCENES from the COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY SWING DANCE (December 9, 2011)

In my ideal re-envisioning of myself, I am both a hot cornetist — modeling myself on Little Bobby Hacksaw — and a stylish swing dancer.  Both of these goals have so far eluded me, but I was delighted to be invited to the Columbia University Swing Dance Society Semi-Formal Friday night.  And I took my camera.  More about that in sixteen bars.

What could be nicer, more promising?  The Grand Street Stompers would play hot and sweet jazz — always original — for an audience of limber swing fans who were in constant motion.  The GSS is one of my favorite bands: Gordon Au on trumpet, gentle leadership, compositions and arrangements; Dennis Lichtman on clarinet; Matt Musselman on trombone; Nick Russo on banjo and guitar; Rob Adkins on string bass; Kevin Dorn (just back from the West Coast) on drums; Tamar Korn on voice.

The Beloved came in and enjoyed the scene; I got to talk with some friends: Lucy Weinman, Veronica Lynn Day, Sam Huang, Michelle deCastro, and Lynn Redmile — and to watch the dancers, who made me think sadly of college opportunities missed.  I told Veronica that when I went to college swing dancing was not quite in fashion (probably I was too busy reading), but that had I been in the right place and the right time, I would have been entranced — both by the live music and by the lively young women.  I would have had a fine time and probably flunked all my classes.  Worth the trade?  No doubt, to quote Mr. Morton.

But back to the semi-formal scenes.  I stationed myself at the rear of the room to capture what you might have seen and heard had you been there . . . the videos are slightly more jumpy than I would have preferred, but I thought a tripod would not have gone with my semi-formal garb.

For Bix, for Hoagy, and for swing — RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE:

Miss Korn (resplendent in mauve or is it Valpoicella?) tells us EVERYBODY LOVES MY BABY:

Are skies cloudy and gray?  They’re only gray for a day, remember.  WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS:

And Gordon’s own rocking love song, CRAZY EYES:

Wonderful scenes!  And how fortunate we are that such things are flourishing in this century — not only for those people who live near 117th Street and Broadway.  Get rhythm in your feet!  On with the dance!